Medical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)

Posted on April 18, 2008  Comments (2)

Merck wrote drug studies for doctors

The drug maker Merck drafted dozens of research studies for a best-selling drug, then lined up prestigious doctors to put their names on the reports before publication, according to an article to be published Wednesday in a leading medical journal.

The article, based on documents unearthed in lawsuits over the pain drug Vioxx, provides a rare, detailed look in the industry practice of ghostwriting medical research studies that are then published in academic journals.

“It almost calls into question all legitimate research that’s been conducted by the pharmaceutical industry with the academic physician,” said Ross, whose article, written with colleagues, was published Wednesday in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and posted Tuesday on the journal’s Web site.

Merck acknowledged Tuesday that it sometimes hired outside medical writers to draft research reports before handing them over to the doctors whose names eventually appear on the publication. But the company disputed the article’s conclusion that the authors do little of the actual research or analysis.

It is sad that the integrity of journals and scientists is so weak that they leave them open to such charges. The significant presence of the corrupting influence of too much money leaves doubt in my mind that the best science is the goal. Which is very sad. In, Funding Medical Research, I discussed my concern that universities are acting more like profit motivated organizations than science motivated organizations. I am in favor of profit motivated organization (those getting the micro-financing in this link, for example) but those organization should not be trusted to provide honest and balanced opinions they should be expected to provide biased opinions.

If universities (and scientists branding themselves as … at X university) want to be seen as honest brokers of science they can’t behave as though raising money, getting patents… are their main objectives. Many want to be able to get the money and retain the sense of an organization focused on the pursuit of science above all else. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. You can, and probably should, try stake out some ground in the middle. And for me right now, partially because they fail to acknowledge the extent to which money seems to drive decisions I don’t believe they are trying to be open and honest, instead I get the impression they are leaning more toward trying to market and sell.

Given the divided loyalties, that I sense, I would like more organizations that are more focused on seeking the truth wherever that might lead. Government organization may not have the divided loyalty of profit but put politics above science often (so they provide a useful role but not one that places scientific knowledge first (granted many scientists inside the organizations do). As I mentioned before, to me universities have ceded the ground to foundations like HHMI. I like Google and I like the University of Wisconsin. But I also don’t believe, without other evidence, either is more interested in the truth than their own private interests. And Journals? their behavior leaves me with little trust in their integrity.

Related: From Ghost Writing to Ghost Management in Medical JournalsHoward Hughes Medical Institute Takes Big Open Access StepContradictory Medical StudiesAnother Paper Questions Scientific Paper AccuracyHarvard Liberal Arts Faculty Votes to Make Their Research Open SourceHow to Deal with False Research FindingsAntibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus WoesMaker of Vioxx Is Accused of Deception

2 Responses to “Medical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Marketing Drugs
    May 17th, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    “We’ve come to a time when decisions on how to treat a disease have as great a chance of being hatched in a corporate marketing department as by a group of independent doctors working to improve the public’s health.”

  2. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Big Drug Research and Development on Campus
    June 9th, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

    Funding university activities this way can lead to conflicts and problems but realistically huge amounts of funding are entangled with possible conflicts of interest…

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